The conversation usually runs on the lines that he reached the top of his
organisation because he was in the right place at the right time and all the
alternative candidates were disbarred for some reason or another.
He – and it is always he because no women get anywhere in business on luck
alone – was noticed because the particular part of the organisation which he ran
had gone through a good patch – either because the market was particularly
buoyant at the time or because his predecessor had been so stunningly inept it
was easy to look like a star.
They normally only admit this when they have been headhunted to move from one
business to another, but success has not followed them.
The moral is that a mediocre talent in a good business can be made to look
exceptional, but a great talent in a bad business makes very little difference.
This poses the question of how effective any chief executive actually is?
Public relations consultants and headhunters mark most chief executives as
poor to average. Some show genuine leadership, courage and vision and set a
whole business humming, but so many more never really understand what they have
under their control.
It will be interesting to see whether the Cable & Wireless plan – to
create a pot of £220m to incentivise its management to get the business moving –
will actually deliver.
And if it does, will it be because there has been genuine top line growth? Or
will it be simply a one off short term financial engineering eliminating loss
makers, slashing marketing and research and development and reducing the working
Anthony Hilton is finance editor of the Evening Standard
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